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West Virginia Poll: split on state’s direction; most say nation is on wrong track

West Virginians are roughly an even split on whether the state is headed in the right direction, according to the latest edition of the MetroNews West Virginia Poll.

Forty-four percent of likely voters believe the state is headed on the wrong track, with 42 percent saying the state is generally headed in the right direction. Another 14 percent were undecided.

Rex Repass

“That’s basically 50-50,” said pollster Rex Repass, who noted that the more pessimistic or the more optimistic view were within the margin of error.

The view of how the nation is doing is a bit dimmer.

Fifty-eight percent of likely West Virginia voters say the country is off on the wrong track while 33 percent say the country is generally headed in the right direction. Only 9 percent said they are unsure.

Those responses come during a particularly tumultuous year with a coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 214,000 American lives.

Protests over racial disparities dominated the national discourse over the summer, with some involving vandalism and riots.

All that is in the middle of a heated presidential campaign, accentuated this week by high-stakes Senate judiciary hearings to consider Amy Coney Barrett, the nominee to fill the seat of longtime Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just weeks before Election Day.

“The COVID-19 outbreak and the uncertainty of the upcoming national general election has many West Virginians concerned about the direction of the nation,” Repass said.

“However, President Trump’s policies appear to resonate with many likely voters throughout the state.”

WV Poll 10 12 Release FINAL (Text)

In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice has focused the past half-year on handling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, noting almost daily how vulnerable the state’s population is because of age, weight and diabetes and limited access to medical care.

Justice speaks regularly of balancing health concerns with economic stability. A broad lockdown in the spring was loosened over the summer. The state’s unemployment rate that shot up to 15.9 percent in April remains at 8.9 percent now, almost twice pre-pandemic levels.

The view how West Virginia and the nation are doing splits along party lines.

For the country, 83.9 percent of Democrats surveyed said the country is on the wrong track. Meanwhile, 57.1 percent of Republicans said the nation is generally headed in the right direction.

And 62.3 percent of independents said the country is on the wrong track, with 24.8 percent saying it’s going in the right direction.

Younger people surveyed were also more likely to say the nation is on the wrong track. Of those aged 18-34, 63.9 percent had that view.

For the state, there was a similar breakdown.

Sixty percent of Republicans surveyed said West Virginia is generally headed in the right direction. But 64.7 percent of Democrats said the state is on the wrong track.

Republicans hold the Governor’s Office, both chambers of the Legislature and most of the congressional delegation in West Virginia.

Among independents, 44.1 percent said the state is on the wrong track and 37.6 percent said it’s headed in the right direction.

The same age group breakdown occurred as at the national level, with 62.6 percent of the 18 to 34 category saying the state is going in the wrong direction.

West Virginians who were surveyed generally expressed favorable views of incumbent political figures.

President Donald Trump, a Republican who has enjoyed popularity in West Virginia, has the approval of 56 percent of likely voters. Forty-three percent said they strongly approve of Trump.

Trump’s job approval ratings decreased five percentage points in West Virginia, from 61 percent to 56 percent during the past ten months (from Dec. 2019 to Oct. 2020).

In contrast, 57 percent said they disapprove of former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president. Forty-five percent said they strongly disapprove of Biden.

Governor Justice, a Republican, gets approval from 54 percent of likely voters. However, only 21 percent said they strongly approve while 33 percent said they somewhat approve of Justice.

That mark represents the highest approval rating the poll has recorded for Justice, with the approval rating moving from 42 percent in December 2019 to 54 percent now.

“West Virginia likely voters have confidence in Governor Justice, and many believe he is doing a good job leading the state in most aspects,” Repass said. “His ability to draw support from moderates and conservatives is also driving up his positives.”

For Ben Salango, the Democratic nominee for governor, 37 percent of likely voters said they are not sure.

Salango is a Kanawha County Commissioner who hasn’t previously run for statewide office. Thirty-three percent of likely voters said they approve of Salango and 30 percent said they disapprove.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, receives approval from 54 percent of likely voters, with 28 percent expressing disapproval and 17 percent saying they’re not sure about Capito, who has served in the Senate since 2015 after first being elected to Congress in 2001.

Capito, whose approval rating was exactly the same a year ago, is challenged in the upcoming General Election by Democrat Paula Jean Swearengin.

Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, gets approval from 44 percent of likely voters, disapproval from 44 percent, and 13 percent say they aren’t sure.

Manchin’s job approval ratings also have decreased, from 49 percent in 2019 to 44 percent now. This decrease comes after his job approval ratings were at a high.

Manchin was re-elected to the Senate in the 2018 election, when he was opposed by state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican. Early this year, Manchin voted to convict President Trump on impeachment counts, generating criticism in West Virginia.

West Virginia teachers unions, which have been at the center of several recent political debates, receive approval from 62 percent of likely voters and disapproval from 18 percent. Twenty-one percent said they are not sure.

The unions have been heavily involved in discussions over the safety of returning to classrooms during the pandemic, with the West Virginia Education Association filing an injunction over changes to a map meant to reflect what precautions school systems should take.

Salango received endorsements of WVEA, American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association.

Teachers went on statewide strikes two years in a row over pay, insurance coverage and legislation making broad changes to the state school system, including allowing charter schools.

In those instances, the unions particularly wound up at odds with the Republican-led state Senate.

“West Virginians have a high approval ratings of their teachers but also support Republican candidates, which is somewhat counter-intuitive,” Repass said.

He noted the historic support in West Virginia for labor unions as well as general support for schools in West Virginia communities.

“There’s still that culture that permeates the state,” Repass said. “And people believe in public education and the need for teachers to have higher incomes to attract the best and brightest.”

The Black lives matter movement, at the center of this summer’s protests across the country, registers disapproval with 45 percent of likely voters in West Virginia and approval by 41 percent. Thirteen percent said they are not sure.

“West Virginia is not a highly diverse state,” Repass said. “But overall it’s pretty split.”

The MetroNews West Virginia Poll was conducted between Oct. 1-6 among a sample of 450 West Virginia registered voters who are likely to vote in the upcoming Nov. 3 General Election. The overall confidence interval for the survey is +/- 4.6 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

Methodology Statement                               

Results of this edition of MetroNews West Virginia Poll are based on interviews conducted between Oct. 1-6, 2020 with a sample of 450 West Virginia registered voters who are likely to vote in the upcoming November 3rd national general election, including registered Democrats, Republicans, Libertarian, Mountain Party, and unaffiliated or independent voters. Data collection was completed online and by telephone with purchased sample of registered voters who are likely to vote in general elections.

Registered likely voters in all 55 West Virginia counties were sampled and screened for near certainty that they plan to vote.  After completion of data collection, the data was modeled to likely voters, actual voter registration in the state, and expected turnout.

When using sample of registered voters and hybrid data collection (online and telephone) it is not appropriate to apply a probability-based margin of error to interviews completed. However, applying statistical tests of significance to each question asked at the 95 percent confidence interval yields an overall statistical error of +/- 4.6 percentage points based on the 450 interviews. The 95 percent confidence interval varies by question.

The purpose of the West Virginia Poll is to provide a snapshot of opinion and timely voter views in the Mountain State. The media sponsor of the West Virginia Poll is MetroNews Radio Network.

Rex Repass is director of the West Virginia Poll and president of Research America Inc. Repass is responsible for questionnaire design, the respondent screening and selection process, data tabulation, statistical analysis, and reporting of results.

The MetroNews West Virginia Poll is a non-partisan survey of public opinion conducted by Repass and Research America Inc. The West Virginia Poll has been directed by Repass and conducted periodically since January 21, 1980. The name The West Virginia Poll is a trademark owned by Research America Inc; all rights reserved.



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